Even Paper Is Better Than Windows Mobile

Say, does anyone remember that the Census Bureau was supposed to use HTC handsets running Windows Mobile 5 this year? I briefly blogged about the strange deal on April 6, 2006: “When New Technology is Old Again.”

HTC handsets running Windows Mobile used for the 2010 Census go oddly together—or they did four years ago. The Census Bureau had reportedly planned to buy a half-million handsets for this year’s count.

I wrote in April 2006:

Is the Census Bureau getting ahead of itself to get behind the times? Cell phones have changed much in the last four years, as has Windows Mobile. Where will the technology be in 2010, and surely Windows Mobile would have advanced a version or two. Considering the census data usually is years old before it’s released, there is something karmic about the situation.

Well, well, how optimistic was I? Change? Couple new versions? Apple hadn’t yet announced iPhone, which shipped in June 2007. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s mobile OS stopped major versioning; the software advanced little since 2006. The dramatic handset changes since 2007 sure would make those 2006-vintage cell phones look rickety.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that when the census taker came to my apartment building in April, she collected data the old fashion way—with pen and paper. No HTC handset. No Windows Moble. No stylus.

I wonder. The Census Bureau planned to buy those phones. But did it—and waste taxpayers’ moolah? According to several stories from July 2009, including “2010 kicks off with Windows Mobile,” the Bureau did deploy some handsets. Oh yeah? So why did my census taker use paper and pen? She surprised me by being a former NPR journalist, who knew her tech. Surely she was capable enough to electronically collect data.

Perhaps I should have posted this item at Betanews, but it’s short, refers to a post on this blog and asks more questions than it answers. Now an expose on why the Census Bureau used pen instead of stylus would be appropriate for Betanews. But not this week. Apple’s developer conference, which starts tomorrow, will be a black hole sucking up tech news readers.

[A few minutes later] Oh, hell, I can’t let a good story go. I did some quick Googling. Computerworld (March 6, 2008), Federal Computer Week (April 7, 2008) and CIO Insights (May 20, 2008) explain how the handset program ran aground and why the Census Bureau largely switched back to pen and paper. Windows Mobile wasn’t the reason for the program’s failure but costly mismanagement.

Perhaps that was lucky for Microsoft. Just imagine the punditry about Census workers using aging Windows Mobile 5 handsets when Android phones, BlackBerries and iPhone are so much more advanced. Engadget had a boner for the HTC Census handset in April 2007. The mobile looks oh-so 1950s today.

Photo Credit: US National Archives

Editor’s Note: This post was moved to joewilcox.com from oddlytogether.com on Sept. 24, 2010.